According to multiple workers and advocates, several short-term foreign workers on Canadian farms are forced to sign away their right to leave the properties where they were engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new agreement request the workers to let their employer “source and provide food provisions” for them, which they will later pay from their salaries.
The agreement reads, “I _____(worker) acknowledge I do have the choice to visit the grocery facility and purchase my own food supplies. I have made the decision not to do so, in the best interest of my own health, and those that I may interact within a public setting.” Even though the contract’s use of the word “choice,” advocates and employees state that the agreement provides nothing of that kind.
Fay Faraday, a professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School and a social justice lawyer, stated that these aren’t consensual contracts but contracts that are signed where the choice is to either sign the contract or be fired and deported. He added that they couldn’t go to a phone where they can call their families. In some cases, they are held on the properties with private security, to prevent them from leaving, and they cannot send money home to their families.
Faraday also said that employers are buying food they can’t eat or are overspending on the workers’ groceries. One migrant worker indicated that he felt like a “prisoner” as his movements have been restricted, his boss has threatened to terminate his contract, forcing him to return to his country. In the meantime, COVID-19 has exploded among migrant workers killing three migrant workers while over 1,300 have fallen ill. Currently, with many of the reported cases coming from the agri-farm sector, the Windsor-Essex region is one of Canada’s coronavirus hotspots.
It could be challenging for migrants to speak out when their bosses take advantage of them or subject them to substandard work conditions owing to the precarious status of temporary foreign workers within Canada. Syed Hussan, executive director of MWAC, stated that it was employers who are making these decisions for migrants who can’t protect themselves. He added that they are being locked into the very houses that they are getting COVID-19, and across the country, “thousands” of migrant farmworkers are “trapped” by their employers.
He also confirmed that it is entirely unjust, unfair and should not be allowed on what people are seeing as the creation of an immigration system by the federal government where employers have so much authority that they can regulate people’s basic human rights and their ability to move. A spokesperson for Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, in response to the allegations of mistreatment, stressed that short-term migrant workers have “the same rights to workplace protections” as Canadians with full citizenship. Marielle Hossack, Qualtrough’s spokesperson, in a statement, indicated that workers are to enjoy the freedom of movement, as would anyone in Canadian society.